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Recreation on public lands in Oregon is now very costly

"Outdoor recreation in Oregon far from free"

Read the following quoted from the appended front page article that appeared in this Sunday’s Bend Bulletin:

“If a person wants to buy annual passes that would allow unlimited visits to state parks, national forests, coastal parks, the lower Deschutes River, Sno-Parks during winter recreation and national parks in Oregon, the tab would come to $155, not including camping fees.”

One hundred and fifty five dollars to visit public lands that we, as citizens, collectively own and that we, as taxpayers, already pay to maintain sounds like an excessive burden upon the people of Oregon.

And what about those persons who can not afford to pay these new and increased fees and who, as a consequence, no longer visit their public lands? Will they not be required to pay taxes to support lands they no longer visit and in which they no longer maintain an active interest??? Will they be permitted to sell off the portion of those public lands they, as citizens, own but no longer use???

If those questions sound ridiculous, I wish they were but am sorry to say that they are not. These are amongst the primary motivations driving the shift from funding public lands with appropriated tax dollars to using fees instead ---- as described in painful detail by the Political Economy Research Center.

For additional information see and for background.


Outdoor recreation in Oregon far from free
The Bulletin
By Rachel Odell
Published: June 1, 2003

With at least nine recreational pass programs, camping fees and other charges, the cost of spending time on state and federal land in Oregon can add up.

If a person wants to buy annual passes that would allow unlimited visits to state parks, national forests, coastal parks, the lower Deschutes River, Sno-Parks during winter recreation and national parks in Oregon, the tab would come to $155, not including camping fees.

Granted, not everyone buys every annual pass. Many people may choose to pay a more moderate day fee, or they may not purchase all of the passes that allow access to all areas of the state.

But just how much people should pay for recreation has become a hot issue in Oregon.

Fee proponents defend the costs, saying recreation should be paid for, in part, by those who use the trails, parking lots and facilities such as picnic tables, boat launches, restrooms and visitor centers. Opponents of fees complain of incessant charges and increases.

The fees supplement stagnant or slightly increasing government budgets that don’t cover the costs of maintaining trails, trailheads and other recreation areas, fee proponents say.

But opponents say the labyrinth of fees required to use public lands in Oregon is confusing and expensive. They say that fees are a form of double taxation and claim their tax dollars should already be enough to fund recreation programs on public land. And they complain that government officials have discretion to charge or increase fees without public input.

That was the case earlier this spring when government officials representing eight agencies decided at a meeting to increase the annual pass required to boat the lower Deschutes River from $35 to $75. Later, they reduced the cost for this summer to $60, but the Web site that sells the passes,, says the annual fee will be $75 after this year’s summer season.

One thing is clear: Whether it’s a pass to float the river, hike the forest, climb rocks or hang out on the coast, today’s recreationists have to navigate government bureaucracy to get the proper pass before heading out; and some also must tighten their own budgets if they want to enjoy nature.

“The user fee thing has the effect of keeping us off of our land,” said Andre Pinette, 49, of Bend. “I like to get out (in nature) for a couple of days, and just rest and get solitude. But now, that is called ‘recreation,’ and I am considered a customer to the federal government and other land management agencies. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.”

In protest, Pinette no longer buys forest passes and does not visit areas of the forest that require parking fees.

But government agencies do not have enough money to accommodate the public at popular areas, said David McClain, a part-time Bend resident and developer who serves on an advisory committee for the Deschutes National Forest. Fees help pay for rangers, trail crews and comfort facilities like toilets and visitor centers, he said.

“The bottom line is there aren’t enough dollars to go around,” McClain said in a telephone interview from Portland. “There is an idea that the consumer has to pay for some of the benefits they get from the use of the national forest. It’s not a free lunch.”

The added expense of required fees can vary widely, depending on where people go and whether the area charges a fee per vehicle or per person.

Consider the following scenario.

The trip: Spend a Saturday morning rock climbing with two friends at Smith Rock State Park, then drive to Maupin and launch a raft for an overnight trip on the lower Deschutes.

The cost: If a person bought annual passes to the state park and the lower Deschutes, the price would be $97. That breaks down to a one-time cost of $25 for an annual state parks pass, a one-time cost of $60 for an annual river pass and $12 for the overnight campground.

If the group of three only bought day passes for the trip, the cost would come to $63. That covers the $3 daily vehicle pass at the state park, $12 for the camp site, and $48 for the daily boater pass, which costs $8 per person, per day.

The money collected from recreationists and other groups goes into a variety of state and federal coffers.

Fees collected by the state fund the entire Oregon Parks and Recreation Department budget, said Jean Thompson, the agency’s spokeswoman.

By contrast, fees collected by federal land management agencies - national parks, national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land - supplement money already allocated by Congress.

Thompson said requiring different passes for different areas confuses some people, but she added that agencies try to coordinate with each other and accept the same pass at a variety of sites.

Consider another recreational scenario.

The trip: A family of four takes a picnic along the Deschutes River south of Bend at Benham Falls and then goes to the Lava Lands Visitor Center at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

The cost: either $5 for the vehicle day pass, or $30 for an annual pass.

Even if the costs are low, Metolius resident Nels Hansen, 67, said people still are being priced out of public lands.

“For someone on food stamps, if they had to choose between paying for food or going to public land, it’s not even a choice,” he said. “If I were down on the poverty level, I wouldn’t be able to afford fees. As it is now, I can afford it, but I resent having to do it.”

Most trail fees for the national forest, and for other federal lands, are authorized under a 1996 law known as the “recreation fee demonstration program.”

That program, also known as rec fee demo, allows agencies to charge user fees and keep 80 to 100 percent of the money collected for improvements on-site. The program has been extended several times by Congress, and it is currently set to expire in 2004.

Most agency officials and some politicians say they expect it to either be extended or made permanent.

“Monies for the Forest Service traditionally have been derived from forest health projects, like tree harvesting, but those projects have been tied up so much and dried up a lot of funds,” said Chris Matthews, spokesman for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “The budgetary reality is that the fees are important.”

But Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he believes Congress should hold hearings on the merits and downfalls of the fee program.

“I don’t believe you should have to buy a permit to just take a walk in the woods,” Walden said in a phone interview Friday from Medford. “I understand the concept of paying a fee to use some improved or developed site. But the notion that you have to pay to just walk in the woods is offensive.”

In fiscal year 2002, sales of the northwest forest pass on the Deschutes National Forest generated $404,500 in total fees, according to Mark Christiansen, fee coordinator for the Deschutes.

In that same year, officials spent $360,700 on fee projects, including $59,400 to collect fees from fee sites, Christiansen said.

The Ochoco National Forest collected $33,097 in fees in fiscal year 2002, but officials only spent $12,300, according to Laurel Skelton, fee coordinator for that forest.

Long considered a more rugged counterpart to the popular Deschutes National Forest, the Ochoco hasn’t aggressively implemented the fee program. Officials decided it wouldn’t be worth the cost of administering fees, she said.

According to the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Guide Web site,, the best way to deal with the confusing volume of fees is to consolidate them.

“The only thing worse than getting to your destination and realizing that a special-use pass is required is having to drive back to town to buy one,” the Web site says. “Let’s all pray that this tangle of passes will be replaced by a universal pass ... someday soon!”


Contributed to
by Scott Silver

Webmeister’s note– Add in climbing fees of $15 per person for many Oregon Cascades summits and you have a very costly access fees just to travel over our public lands for a day or a weekend. Also, the new consolidated pass just makes use of the Deschutes National Forest more expensive. Many folks do not want to go to all the other forests, national park sites and propaganda stores covered by the new simplified "bargain" pass. –Bob Speik

Read more:

Demonstration in Bend, OR
Fee Demo program has "fallen short
"- Senator Craig
Fee Demo program rejected by USFS employees